Potato Business Magazine recently ran an article entitled Food Safety: Keeping a Close Eye on Foreign Material is Key that discussed the most common inspection technologies used in potato processing, including food metal detectors and X-ray inspection systems.
Potatoes reach the consumer in many forms, such as fries, chips, hash browns, potato skins, potato pancakes, puffs and tots, and starch. They can be canned, baked, mashed, dehydrated, and boiled, frozen in dinners as potatoes au gratin or scalloped potatoes, and packed in plastic containers as potato salad. But before they reach the consumer in those final forms, the potatoes need to be grown, harvested, and inspected.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, “Potatoes (solanum tuberosum) are the fourth most important food crop in the world and the leading vegetable crop in the United States…. In 2017 a total of 1.05 million acres of potatoes were harvested in the United States, and was valued at $3.7 billion…. China is now the world’s top potato producer, followed by India, Russia, and Ukraine. The United States is the fifth largest producer of potatoes in the world (NPC).
The USDA grades potatoes for processing. U.S. No. 1 and No. 2 grades both require that potatoes be free from loose sprouts, dirt and foreign material. It’s easy to understand how foreign material can enter the potato process. Mechanical harvesters dig up the ground, pick up the potatoes, and through conveyors and sorters, get the potatoes from ground to warehouse. Shards of glass, metal pieces, stones, or pieces of plastic can be in the ground and then swept up by the harvesting machines and processed with the potatoes. In addition, machinery can break apart, and enter the process as well. Then as the potatoes are processed further and packaged, they move through equipment that contains many metal and plastic parts that can wear away and break off — entering the production line.
Fortunately, there is technology that can help discover the metal fragments or other foreign contaminants before they reach consumer’s hands. Metal detection and X-ray inspection traditionally have been the first line of defense to identify the presence of foreign contaminants in food products before they have the chance to leave the processing plant. Industrial food metal detectors are best for metal contamination concerns, like pieces of mesh screens, or broken off nuts and bolts from machinery. The newest multi-frequency multiscan technology utilizes five user-adjustable frequencies, so it’s like having five metal detectors in a row. X-ray detection and inspection system might be best to find metal as well as glass, rocks, bones or dense plastic, or if metallic packaging is utilized. In addition, some of these systems bundle checkweighers in a combination unit to help manufacturers meet throughput and legal requirements while providing reliable weight control.
Many food processors have inspection equipment for the incoming raw materials (the potatoes in this case) and then additional inspection equipment right before the final product is packaged.
For food quality professionals, process engineers and corporate food safety executives who decide which technology will best protect them from contaminants, choosing a detection system is typically based on three things: the optimum detection point, overall application capability and total cost/benefit. (You can read about the basics, and see a comparison chart between metal detection and X-ray inspection in this application note: What food processors should know: metal detection vs. X-ray inspection.)
If you’re a food processor that includes potatoes in your final product, make sure your quality control department is using the latest inspection technology to help ensure that your frozen dinners and bags of French fries do not include shards of metal or plastic.
- Read the application note: What food processors should know: metal detection vs. X-ray inspection.)
- Visit our website and download resources re Packaged Food Inspection Information